The Bird in Hand
All characters in the following story engaging in sexual activities, even in the past, are 18 or older.
This story is set in the UK, as am I. That’s not significant but it can get pretty British at times, so I thought it was worth mentioning. The legal drinking age in the UK is 18.
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Nicole returned to her hometown for the first time in almost seven years. It was the sort of place that people did not really go to, and if they did go, once they left, they did not go back. It was a dull grey nowhere kind of place whose most marketable feature wasgreat transport links, meaning the only reason anyone lived there was because it was so easy to get from there to just about anywhere else.
When Nicole, born and raised, had left for university, she hadn’t shed a single tear for the town she left behind. Her parents had put in motion an escape plan of their own soon after, so when Nicole wenthome to them it was to a different house in another part of the country.
She missed her friends though. Friends with whom she had grown up, survived school, and spent countless hours trying to find ways to pass the time. They had kept in touch mostly online, meeting up occasionally elsewhere for a concert or some such event. There had never been a good time or reason enough to visit them at home, but now Nicole found herself with a free weekend and an invite to a night out for Stacey’s birthday. Happy to be included, she had swallowed her reluctance and agreed to go.
She packed three outfits ready for any weather, and when it stayed fine and warm all day, she wore a navy sundress with white polka dots and brown suede ankle boots. A hint of blue eyeshadow jazzed her up just enough to tie in the look. She curled her hair, painted her nails, and spent the rest of her getting-ready time deciding what items were essential enough to take with her based on what she could fit into the small brown crossbody bag that went with her shoes.
Her room in one of the cheap chain hotels looked out onto the motorway and she could hear the thunder of passing traffic. She prepared either to stay out really late or to get really drunk, because how else was she supposed to sleep afterwards?
Determined not to let the greyness get her down, Nicole followed the familiar streets into town with a bit more of a spring in her step. It was impossible to have a night out there, so no doubt she would be on a bus or train to somewhere brighter soon enough anyway.
She met Stacey and Ffion outside theBird in Hand; an old pub tucked away in a narrow side street. Stacey, the birthday girl, was the short one, with short dark hair and a shorter skirt. Ffion, the tallest of the group, wore a blazer and jeans and her hair in a braid. Their joke had always been that they could arrange themselves in a line, tallest to shortest, oldest to youngest, smallest to biggest boobs. Nicole was in the middle on all counts, and it wasn’t lost on her that the dynamic worked just as well without her.
Despite Stacey’s insistence that being 25 years old meant they were allold A-F, they greeted each other in the same manner they had for over half their lives, with much squealing and hugging andI love your hair-ing.
“You remembered where to come then?” asked Ffion as Nicole finished wishing Stacey a happy birthday.
Nicole looked at the pub behind them. “Believe me, there’s plenty of things about this place I’d sooner forget.”
“I don’t remember us thinking it was so bad back in the day,” Stacey countered, looking sidelong at Ffion.
“I think we were just glad we had somewhere to go,” said Nicole.
TheBird in Hand had been their hangout most weekends of their late adolescence. From too early an age, in fact. No adults with any self-respect ever went there, so if the money was good, the dodgy landlord was not concerned with how old they were or what they were drinking. And drinking was required as it was not pleasant inside. Cleaning occurred maybe once a month — if that — and maintenance far less often, but with its dirty windows and broken lights, it had been dark even in summer, which made it easier not to worry about it. Ultimately, they had settled for it, rather than trying to go somewhere nicer only to be evicted for being underage by staff or even by the police. By the time they were all old enough to go elsewhere, they were just used to it.
“Anyway, never mind this place,” said Nicole, “where are we going?”
Ffion raised her eyebrows and looked at Stacey, who was already reaching for the handle on the front door.
Nicole started to protest.
“C’mon,” Stacey laughed, “once you get some shots in you, it won’t be a problem. Besides, it’s not even bad anymore. Miles has really turned the place around.”
“What do you mean,Miles who? Our Miles. Miles Cook.” Stacey hadn’t even looked back as she spoke, and Nicole stared blankly as they disappeared inside.
Miles Cook? eryaman escort The younger brother of her high school boyfriend, Jason? That shy kid who jumped at his own shadow and never looked at her when she spoke to him. She couldn’t imagine him anywhere near theBird, never mind having anything to do withturning it around. And since when was heour Miles as far as her friends were concerned? Feeling curious and a little foolish standing alone in the street, Nicole took a deep breath and followed them inside.
Whoever was responsible, inside the place was transformed. Light and clean. Had the floor always been that colour? The décor had been updated recently, and all the chairs had been either reupholstered or replaced. The bar itself, on the one side of the room, looked a lot cleaner and more inviting, and the old broken wooden stools had been replaced with those plastic and chrome ones that raised and lowered at the touch of a button.
There weren’t many customers in as it was still early but a group of people in suits sat towards the back drinking and laughing, and a couple of them circled a pool table that occupied a space Nicole remembered was used to store broken furniture and stacks of crates. An older couple were sharing a bottle of wine nearer the door. Two heavy guys in hi-vis propped up one end of the bar with a pint each and Ffion was chatting away with them cheerfully. Even the clientele — even the barflies — seemed to have improved.
Stacey was talking to someone unseen through the door behind the bar that led down to the cellar. She was standing on her tiptoes on a brass footrail that ran along the bottom of bar in order to lean over it and her skirt had ridden up. Nicole laughed as Ffion moved behind her to tug the hem back into place. Some things would never change. Stacey would never give a damn what anyone thought about her, and she would always be too short to lean over the bar, and Ffion had spent much time over the years making sure Stacey’s ass was not showing. Stacey shrugged and proclaimed that since it was her birthday, she most likely would be dancing naked on the bar by the end of the night.
“I should say I probably don’t have the right licenses for that, as much as I’d love to see it.” A man’s voice came from behind the cellar door.
Nicole may not have known Miles unprompted. He was two or three years younger than her, so he looked very different to when she had seen him last. Instead of awkward and gangly, he was tall and lean, and he came out behind the bar with an easy swagger. Nicole recognised the dark brown eyes, the messy tangle of dark hair, and the serious eyebrows, but his face was a better fit with a more angular jaw. He wore black jeans and a plain grey t-shirt which showed off toned arms and hinted at a similarly cut torso.
“Happy birthday, Stace,” he said with a wide smile. “I’d say you don’t look a day older, but then it’s only been about 18 hours since you were in here last.”
Nicole was surprised by the lightness in Miles’s voice. It was deeper, but far less sullen, and she found herself trying to remember if she had ever seen him smile before.
Miles set a bottle of Pimm’s on the bar next to a glass jug half-filled with ice. From a tub he retrieved from a fridge behind the bar, he heaped chunks of cucumber and apple, sliced strawberries and orange into the jug. He dropped in some mint leaves, poured over the Pimm’s and topped up the jug with lemonade from a soda gun. He stirred the whole lot with a long spoon while fishing glasses from beneath the bar without looking.
“First round’s on me for my favourite ladies,” Miles beamed as he slid the cocktail towards Stacey.
“Aw, thank you Miles, you’re the best,” Stacey said in a saccharine voice, before reaching over, grabbing his t-shirt and pulling him towards her. Miles’s eyes went wide as she kissed him full on the mouth. Stacey made a dramatic ‘mwah’ sound before releasing him, and he staggered back. Ffion rolled her eyes and shrugged at her hi-vis friends who were laughing.
“So, uh, no boyfriends tonight then?” Miles asked, looking around. His gaze passed over Nicole, who hadn’t made it much farther than the doorway. It had been a lot to take in so far. He smiled at her in greeting as though she were a new customer who had just walked in. Then his face adopted that same look of shock from moments before.
Nicole smiled and raised her hand, then immediately felt silly for waving from 20 feet away and started towards them.
Stacey was explaining that her and Ffion’s boyfriends were watching the match, that hers would more than make it up to her later, that he wouldn’t care about her kissing anyone if he didn’t have to put his hand in his pocket to pay for drinks. Besides, what’s a kiss between friends, it was her birthday.
“Oh, and we’ve got better company tonight,” she added as Nicole made it to the bar at last.
Miles continued to stare at her for a moment, and all Nicole escort ankara could do was stare back. Last time she saw him he had been a kid, or at least that’s how she had thought of him. He had looked like a younger — if ganglier — version of his brother, whom she had dated for the last year of high school. Now, he was a man. Aside from the same brown eyes, he looked nothing like Jason had looked the last time she saw him, which was years ago too for that matter. Miles looked more mature. His body fitted him better. In short, he was hot now. It wasn’t just the pub they stood in that had been transformed.
“Nicole,” Miles finally said, “Jesus.”
“Right first time,” she laughed. “Hi, Miles.”
“I can’t believe you’re here.”
“That makes two of us,” she said, glancing at her friends. “I never thought I’d be back in this place. I can’t believe you work here.”
“Somebody has to,” he replied, spreading his arms to gesture to the room. “What do you think?”
“Did you do all this yourself?”
“Yeah, pretty much, over a couple of years.”
“You’re a miracle worker.”
“He has magic hands,” snorted Stacey, “or so I’ve heard. Mixes a hell of a drink too.” She handed a glass of Pimm’s to Nicole who tried not to down it immediately, despite the strong temptation to drown the butterflies in her stomach.
“All true,” Miles grinned. He held Nicole’s gaze as she sipped her drink. It was the longest eye contact she had ever had with him, and she could feel the heat rising in her cheeks. Miles seemed about to continue the conversation, but instead had to excuse himself to serve another round to the group of suits.
Nicole followed her friends to a round table opposite the bar. Stacey sat with her back to the wall, facing out so she could see everything that was happening. She wanted anyone she knew who came in to be able to wish her happy returns. Nicole and Ffion took up positions either side of her. They clinked glasses and drank. Nicole gave in and chugged most of hers.
“There’s our girl,” said Ffion, throwing back most of her drink as well. “Welcome back, Nic. We missed you. Probably should have mentioned where we were going.”
“No worries. It’s great to see you guys. I’m just glad the seats are clean, or I would rather not be wearing a dress.”
“We always wore dresses or skirts back in the day,” Stacey retorted. “How else were the boys supposed to know they could get to third base?”
Nicole glanced sub-consciously over her shoulder. There was a corridor that led out the back to a patio area, with the toilets on one side and a cleaning cupboard on the other. Back in the bad old days of theBird in Hand, the only things ever in that cupboard were a filthy mop, dusty cobwebs, and teenagers making out.
Nicole laughed. “Well, I’m here for my girls so I might have to skip getting fingered in the cleaning cupboard tonight. I can’t get over how this place looks though. No wonder you never stopped coming here.”
“Oh, we did stop,” said Ffion, “like, right after you left.”
“You, and everyone else who left,” Stacey added. “A lot of the people we knew moved away for one reason or another, and this place was empty, grosser than ever, and no fun at all. So, we found other places to go.”
“So, how did you end up back in here?” Nicole asked.
Stacey and Ffion exchanged looks before nodding towards the bar. Nicole looked over at Miles who was making two businesswomen laugh while he placed twists of lemon peel into pink cocktails in sugar-rimmed glasses. His smile widened when he saw Nicole watching him.
“Miles started working here sometime after we moved on,” Ffion explained. “We joked about coming here for the novelty, but Jason always made a fuss. We saw Miles around a lot more after Jason left, and that brought us back here.”
Miles had not been part of their friend group because he was younger, but even at home — especially at home — he and his brother had not been friends. Whenever Nicole had gone round to spend time with Jason, the brothers had done little more than grunt at each other.
“Have you heard from Jason recently?” Nicole asked. It was meant in the spirit of the conversation. She didn’t dwell on thoughts of her high school boyfriend all that time later. They had split up a couple of weeks before she left. It had been mutual, as far as breakups ever could be. Jason had started the conversation, but Nicole knew it came after months of her talking about how eager she was to leave town and never come back.
“We haven’t spoken to him since he left,” said Ffion, draining her second glass and reaching for the pitcher. “Before that, actually.”
“Oh, I didn’t know you guys had a falling out,” said Nicole.
Stacey tanked her drink and took the jug from Ffion. “Jason had the falling out. He’s a dick.”
“He was always having a dig at someone or something,” Ffion explained calmly as Nicole poured the rest of the cocktail sincan escort into her glass. “It was funny when we were kids, because we were caught up in it, but he was a bit of a bully, to everyone including us. Then when everyone left, it was just us. It was only ever angry rants and snide comments, but it was all the time. Literally, the first time we suggested maybe he should calm down, he stormed out then refused to speak to us again.”
“Not that we were super upset by that,” Stacey added. “The worst was how he treated his brother.”
Nicole glanced over at Miles, who was now serving beers to a group of lads who had come in while they were talking.
“I know they didn’t really get on,” she said.
“Jason was good around you, you know,” offered Ffion. “What we’re talking about, his attitude, he was never as bad when you were there.”
“So…” Nicole couldn’t quite work out the right question.
“Everything Miles is now: successful, confident, happy…”
“…gorgeous,” Stacey interjected, and Ffion rolled her eyes again.
“Yeah,” was all Nicole could think to say. She understood what she was being told, and it wasn’t really all that surprising after all.
“I’m not drunk enough for this,” Stacey proclaimed, shaking a glass that now contained only a soggy fruit salad.
Ffion offered to get another round in and headed off to the bar. More customers had come in, and Miles was busy serving and chatting. A couple of lads came over with beers in hand to wish Stacey a happy birthday. Nicole was introduced but she didn’t catch their names in return. They talked for a minute before heading out the back towards the patio area behind the pub.
Ffion returned with three fruity-looking yellow and orange cocktails, and a tray full of assorted shots which she divided between them. She and Stacey looked expectantly at Nicole, who suppressed a groan.
“Just tell me there’s no Sambuca,” said Nicole. “I don’t like the taste and will be sick instantly.” Ffion moved two of the colourless shots over to her side and passed Nicole an extra brown one. Nicole raised the shot glass to her friends and downed it. She spluttered as Jägermeister burned the back of her throat, and the others laughed at her. She immediately swigged her cocktail to kill the taste. A tropical flavour like pineapple or mango easily hid the drink’s more sinister ingredients.
Stacey whooped. “Ladies. Let’s get wasted.”
The bar filled up as they drank and talked. Nicole realised how many regulars there were at theBird in Hand as more people stopped by to speak to her friends. A few knew it was Stacey’s birthday and they got through another couple of rounds without having to pay for a drink. Nicole found her mind wandering while her friends’ attentions were occupied by people she didn’t know. She amused herself by watching Miles, busy behind the bar.
A couple of hours after they arrived, Miles was still on top form, effortlessly shaking cocktails and filling glasses and chatting with every customer as he went. He had been joined behind the bar by a girl with purple hair and a rose tattoo on one arm. Stacey had said this was Bea, one of Miles’s schoolfriends, before spending ten minutes ribbing Ffion about her supposed girl crush. Nicole started wondering about their relationship as she watched them dancing around each other behind the bar. They didn’t seem to be as flirty with each other as they were with the customers, but Bea still laughed often at the things Miles was saying.
“Speaking of being fingered in the cleaning cupboard,” Ffion said from across the table, shocking Nicole back into the present moment.
“Yeah, a little bit ago.”
“What about it? You mean Bea and Miles?”
Ffion gave her a quizzical look, then shook her head as if trying to get rid of the image. “No. God, no. They’re strictly BFF’s. Sure, they look amazing together, but if there was an advert for platonic boy-girl friendships, they’d be on the poster.”
“Oh, ok. So, what was that about being fingered in the cupboard?”
Ffion stared into space as she tried to regain her train of thought. “I was just going to ask what’s going on with you. How’s your love life?”
“Ha. Love life. Who’s got time?” Busy with work was pretty much Nicole’s constant state. Early on, it had beenwork hard, play hard, but recently it had become justwork hard. She was currently up for a promotion, so the plan was work harder now and play harder later. The only guys she spent any time around were those in the office. While a few of them were probably willing to hook up with her in the cleaning cupboard, or the stationery cupboard, she wasn’t quite that desperate just yet.
“When was the last time you got laid?” asked Ffion.
“Do you mean when I last had sex, or the last time someone other than me got me off?”
Ffion blew out a deep breath at the implication that both answers were equally depressing. “You should talk to Miles,” she said.
“What? You think I should go up to the bar and order some casual sex with an orgasm chaser?” It wasn’t a bad idea. She could believe Miles had that sort of request most nights. She wondered how often he served it up.